A new telescope array is being built at the Siding Spring Observatory in NSW, with the goal of seeking out gravitational waves.
Gravitational waves are massive energy-carrying waves that move through a gravitational field: they’re produced when a massive body, such as a black hole, are disturbed or accelerated. Monash University describes them as “violent cosmic events”.
Gravitational waves are something that humans can’t see, but could become vastly important to interstellar discoveries in the future, so being able to detect them and trace their origins has become a focus of scientists since the first gravitational waves were discovered back in 2015, proving an Einstein theory right.
Back down to Earth, gravitational waves are to be sought out and identified at the Siding Spring Observatory, in tandem with the Gravitational-Wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) at La Palma in the Canary Islands, led by the University of Warwick.
“This is really encouraging from an international cooperation perspective that the UK is willing to support this project, with new telescopes to be built in Australia,” said associate professor Duncan Galloway, from the Monash University School of Physics and Astronomy.
“The new site gives us a massive improvement in our chance to observe the counterparts of Gravitational Wave detections. Detecting the optical counterparts promptly is a key factor in how much we can learn from Gravitational Wave detections. The first such event, GW170817, was identified in 11 hours; but our GOTO network can be in sky and autonomously observing the field within minutes.”
The new tech at the Siding Spring Observatory includes a robotic two-mount, 16 telescope system. The robotic systems powering the telescopes will operate autonomously, constantly looking out for gravitational wave events.
It can be difficult to detect a gravitational wave’s origin, since observatories can only measure the effects of said waves as they pass through our “local patch of space-time”.
The new telescope in NSW, along with its counterpart in La Palma, will cover an observational gap, by looking for optical signals in the electromagnetic spectrum (such visual queues are fleeting, as they involve the merging of massive objects). The NSW and La Palma telescopes will feed information through to other observatories, which will further study the optical source of the event.
We’ve been enjoying quite a bit of space news in Australia recently, with the launch of a NASA rocket from the Northern Territory just over a week ago. Earlier in June, it was announced that a new deep-space antenna was being built in Western Australia.
The plan is to have the observatory in NSW seeking gravitational waves in time for the next observing run in 2023.